Your browser (Internet Explorer {{browserVersion}}) is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all the features of this and other websites.
Update my browser

Empires, Tsars & The Black Sea

  • Overview
  • Accommodation
  • Itinerary
  • Fares

A journey overview

  • Istanbul
  • Bartin
  • Sinop
  • Trabzon
  • Batumi
  • Sochi
  • Odessa
  • Constanta
  • Burgas

13 Days Ocean Voyage
  • Departing:
  • 30 Aug 2021

Journey from Istanbul to the shores of the Black Sea for a rare chance to visit ports in Turkey, Georgia, Russia, Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria. Our exploration with just 100 guests on our privately chartered floating home, the MS Caledonian Sky, will take us deep into the past.



add to your experience with a pre tour option

Pre tour option

From Per Person Twin Share {{tic.formatPrice(0, $)}}

A private transfer after our flights brings us to the historic Pera Palace Hotel. The most revered in all of Istanbul, it was built in the 19th century for passengers arriving on the legendary Orient Express train from Venice. After an afternoon at leisure we enjoy a splendid cocktail and canapes reception.

During our private viewing of the Hagia Sophia Museum, we admire its elaborately designed interior and exquisite mosaics. After a visit to the Süleymaniye Mosque, we board a private boat for a cruise of the Bosphorus Strait, taking in close-up views of magnificent palaces. The waterfront Sait Halim Pasha Mansion hosts us for dinner in a private room.

From Çanakkale, we visit ancient Troy and its much-lauded archaeological museum. Courtesy of a private ferry, we then travel to the Gallipoli peninsula. Here, we view the places where troops valiantly fought and fell; an emotional exploration of a loss of national innocence.

An exclusive dinner at the ancient Greek city of Ephesus with a classical music concert highlights a busy two days around İzmir. We also explore ancient Pergamon and take lunch with a village family. A private lecture will illuminate the lives of the Levantines, the Europeans who lived as expatriates in Ottoman Turkey. A visit to Konak’s Roman-era Agora Open Air Museum and Old Market Place precedes lunch at the modern Lucien Arkas vineyard.

Following an exclusive dinner in Love Valley, a Your World experience beckons, as we soar high above Cappadocia during a hot-air balloon flight. After explorations of the cave town of Zelve and Kaymakli Underground City, we are transfixed by Sufi whirling dervishes at a private Mevlana ceremony.

Returning to Istanbul, those of us joining the Black Sea cruise transfer to the MS Caledonian Sky, while guests concluding their journey enjoy a final night and Farewell Dinner in Istanbul.

A private transfer after our flights brings us to the historic Pera Palace Hotel, the most revered in all of Istanbul. After an afternoon at leisure we have a splendid Welcome Dinner at the hotel, which was built in the 19th century for passengers arriving on the legendary Orient Express train from Venice.

We see the best of Turkey’s most vibrant city this morning, taking in its remarkably varied history, before lunch in a local restaurant. In the afternoon we will transfer to our home for the next 11 nights, the MS Caledonian Sky, and after acquainting ourselves with its facilities and meeting the captain and crew we enjoy welcome cocktails and dinner on board. Guests arriving from the Exotic Wonders of Turkey journey join us today.

Choose from a morning in Amasra’s Old Town, set on a peninsula between two bays, or a day in historic Safranbolu before we sail for Sinop, founded by the Greeks and subsequently conquered by the Phrygians, Persians, Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks and Ottomans. The Archaeological Museum illustrates this unsettled history. From the city of Trabzon, we set out for the 13th-century Sumela Byzantine monastery, which clings improbably to a sheer rock wall. We also visit Trabzon’s Old Town, Aya Sofia church and Ataturk’s cliffside mansion.

We land in Georgia for a full day exploring Batumi, whose Gonio fortress was built in the 1st century and has links with the Apostle Matthew, said to be entombed here, and the mythological enchantress Medea, whose towering statue holding the Golden Fleece we see in Europa Square. The sub-tropical botanic gardens and farmers market lead us to lunch, which features an exhilarating private performance by the Adjara State Assembly of Music and Dance.

Venue for the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sochi’s climate and health spas have attracted Russia’s elite for centuries, including Stalin, whose artfully concealed dacha, built deep in the woods in 1937, remains as it was when the Soviet leader holidayed there. We also visit Dagomy’s, the world’s most northerly tea plantation, and sample the brew improbably grown in the shadows of the Caucasus mountains. As we sail towards Odessa, we spend a full day aboard the ship, with myriad activities to keep us entertained.

We have two days to explore this striking coastal city, founded by Catherine the Great in 1794. The celebrated Potemkin Steps, Primorsky Boulevard, Preobrazhensky Cathedral and the Fine Arts Museum are among the sights we visit, along with two significant homes, Tolstoy Mansion, built for Count Mikhail Tolstoy in 1932, and mid-19th-century Gagarin Mansion, now a literary museum where we enjoy a violin recital in the Golden Hall.

Coast or capital is our choice – a day in the port of Constanta, or a visit to the capital, Bucharest. Constanta’s antiquity shows at the Archaeological Museum and in imposing 3rd-century Roman mosaics, and we stroll along the Black Sea waterfront. In Bucharest we see French influences in the wide boulevards, and as a stark contrast, the massive Parliament Palace, a bloated legacy of the megalomania of despised former dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu.

Burgas introduces us to the Bulgarian coast, whose crowning glory is Sozopol, the oldest town in the country, dating to 610BC. Its wooden houses and cobblestoned streets give it the air of a living museum. You may prefer to head to Nessebar, whose atmospheric Old Town holds World Heritage status. We then toast our journey on the final night aboard our ship.

Guests travelling on the Caucasus Land Tour transfer to the airport for a flight to Baku on Day 14. Those returning to Australia transfer to the airport for our flights home on Day 15, taking with us a greater understanding of the history, culture and politics of a fascinating and beautiful part of the world.

Add to your experience with a post tour option

Post tour option

From Per Person Twin Share {{tic.formatPrice(0, $)}}

We tumble straight into Azeri life with kebabs at a caravanserai in Baku’s Old Town followed by a visit to the 15th-century Shirvanshah Palace. After settling into our luxurious accommodation, the Four Seasons Hotel Baku, we head out for dinner at the Mugam Club Restaurant, another eating place located in an old caravanserai, with traditional music and dance.

Gobustan is in the arid region southwest of Baku, and reveals 40,000 years of human habitation in its rock art, highlighted at the Petroglyphs Museum. We also visit the H. Aliyev Centre, a cultural hub notable for the wave-like peaks and troughs of its stunning contemporary design by Zaha Hadid, and the Nobel Brothers Museum at Villa Petrolea, where we indulge in a wine and black caviar reception before dinner at Shirvanshah Restaurant.

Cosmopolitan Tbilisi tempts us with its dramatic setting on the banks of the Mtkvari River and the character of the narrow, winding streets of its Old Town. We visit the 13th-century Metekhi Church high above the city, and Tbilisi’s ancient citadel, the Narikala Fortress, which dates to the 4th century. Much is in ruins, but Narikala’s mighty walls are largely intact, and provide a spectacular vantage point for views over the city.

Georgia’s spiritual and historic heart is Mtskheta, a pretty town at the confluence of the Aragvi and Mtkvari rivers. Both Jvari church, which has overlooked Mtskheta from its hilltop eyrie since the 6th century, and stone-carved Svetitskhoveli cathedral, which is believed to contain Christ’s robe, are World Heritage listed. We also visit Uplistsikhe, a city hewn from rock 3000 years ago, and stay in Borjomi, a town famed for its mineral water.

Another subterranean world beckons. The Vardzia Cave Complex was built as a refuge from marauding Mongols, but later succumbed to an earthquake. Before natural disaster struck it became a centre of Christian worship, and we still see a myriad frescoed walls, caves and tunnels. Returning to Tbilisi we visit Paravani Lake, whose surface changes colour with the weather, and Phoka Nunnery, where resident nuns produce cheese and confectionery.

Food and wine are today’s focus, with a stop at Bodbe Nunnery, a pilgrimage centre as the final resting place of St Nino, a 4th-century female evangelist. Kakheti, close by the Great Caucasus range, is Georgia’s prime wine region. Winemaking has a long history – fragments of wine amphorae have been found dated to 8000 years ago. At masterclasses we learn about Georgian breadmaking and pork barbecue, and make a traditional sweet named Churchkhela.

The haunting sound of the duduk, a traditional woodwind instrument, welcomes us to Armenia. We cross the border to Dilijan and venture to Sharambeyan Street in the Old Town to visit artisans’ workshops and hear a duduk performance. After lunch we explore Lake Sevan, the second-largest freshwater lake in the world, and its medieval monasteries, before checking into our Yerevan hotel and enjoying a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.

Spectacular Geghard Cave Monastery is carved from a rock face, and the complex is known for its acoustics, so we enjoy a choir concert before visiting the Hellenic-style Garni Temple, a pagan structure dating to the 1st century. We dine in Garni and learn how to make lavash, traditional Armenian bread. The afternoon is devoted to the capital, with visits to the impressive History Museum, as well as the moving Genocide Museum and memorial.

We join the pilgrims at Khor Virap Monastery, located at the foot of Mt Ararat. Gregory the Illuminator, Armenia’s patron saint, was jailed here in the 4th century. Echmiadzin Cathedral, the Armenian Apostolic Church’s heart, leads us to lunch at the Cross of Armenian Unity, an NGO that teaches art to children, especially with disabilities. We view 7th-century Zvarnots Temple before returning to Yerevan for a Farewell Dinner with music and dance.

We head to the airport to fly home, having been given a privileged opportunity to visit countries opening like a chrysalis before us.

Keep Exploring

Contrasts of the Caucasus

A remarkable exploration into the Caucasus and three strikingly diverse countries – Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia.

Exotic Wonders of Turkey

Know Turkey on a journey beyond the ordinary, exploring Istanbul, ancient cities, Gallipoli, İzmir and dreamlike Cappadocia.